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U.N.’s Assertion Of Immunity In Cholera Outbreak Is Morally, Legally ‘Right’ Decision

“When U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invoked diplomatic immunity last week for peacekeepers who unwittingly caused the cholera outbreak that killed nearly 8,000 Haitians, his decision looked cold-hearted,” but “sympathy for Haitians should not mask the necessity of the secretary-general’s decision,” Boston Globe correspondent Juliette Kayyem writes in an opinion piece in the newspaper. “It was right as a legal matter — and as a moral one, too,” she states, adding, “This case is about disaster management, not public health.” She continues, “Putting aside whether the U.N.’s attitude has been sympathetic enough, whether it should vet peacekeeping forces better before deploying them, and whether the organization has a moral obligation to give Haiti more help with its public health needs, Ban’s decision will protect all relief efforts in the future,” adding, “It is the only outcome that provides the necessary protections to those who are asked to work voluntarily in dangerous situations.”

“Most importantly, it will maintain an incentive for nations to support U.N. efforts for assistance or peacekeeping missions that have, by any measure, done far more good than harm,” Kayyem states, adding, “Ban’s decision protects not only the U.N. but also all those who serve internationally in capacities that might otherwise subject them to the whims of local politicians and judges.” She continues, “Such immunity ought not to protect all behavior. But had this case led to a trial pitting the U.N., Nepal, and Haiti against one another, the consequences for the next disaster would be devastating.” She concludes, “It would open the door for challenges to international relief and public health efforts, either through litigation against the U.N. or, worse, against individual soldiers, emergency managers, and public health workers. … The U.N.’s assertion of immunity might be tragic for a nation that has had its fair share of tragedy. But it is absolutely right” (2/28).